Director Herzog makes film for UVM class
By LISA RATHKE
The Associated Press | January 13,2014
BURLINGTON — A University of Vermont lecturer seized the opportunity of a lifetime last fall when he attended a talk by award-winning director Werner Herzog and asked him to make a short movie for his class using a Super 8mm film camera.
Two weeks later, Herzog sent back a three-minute movie called “Where’s da party at?” followed by a letter with explicit instructions on how the film students should use the piece in their own work.
Peter Gruner Shellenberger and his 28 students had discussed the proposal as part of their class last fall and were floored by Herzog’s response.
“It was like a pretty unique experience. We were all pretty excited about it,” said Sam Kleh, who produced a film with four other students using Herzog’s footage.
Herzog’s silent black-and-white film scans a decaying building in Detroit from the outside in, with shadows of the director as he films. Once inside, he pans the dark expanse showing light from the rectangles of windows in the distance. The camera pauses to take in light reflecting in a puddle of water, catching a drop of water as it falls into a puddle.
“The timing of that?” Shellenberger said. “There’s no other way to put it. I mean, man, that’s powerful stuff.”
The German director received an Oscar nomination in 2009 for his documentary “Encounters at the End of the World.” He has also produced “Grizzly Man,” “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” and, more recently, “Cave of Forgotten Dreams.”
Shellenberger, who had an interest in Super 8 filming and was discussing it as part of the class, got the impulse to share a camera with a filmmaker because there’s been a history of sharing the compact cameras and sending them back with short films. The chance presented itself when Herzog, who was in the area filming for a piece about texting while driving, spoke at Dartmouth College last fall. The students helped Shellenberger choose which camera to use, how to package it and what the letter should say.
During a question-and-answer session after Herzog’s talk, a nervous Shellenberger stood up and asked the director if he would take the camera.
“The moment the camera wasn’t in my hands, I was like, `Wow, it’s gone. It’s totally up to him,”’ Shellenberger said.
In Herzog’s letter returning the camera, he instructed the students that his footage should make up 25 percent or less of their film. He said his footage could go public as part of the project only if one of the student films ended up published in its entirety.
Kleh, a film and television studies major, liked the images in Herzog’s film and the way he filmed the urban wasteland.
While scouting for his own film, he biked down to the rail yard on the Burlington waterfront. There, Kleh spotted train cars with the name “Herzog” across them. “Here’s what we’re filming,” he told the team.
The group played with the concept of shapes and shadows in their film.
“We decided to use his footage as inspiration,” Kleh said. “We continued with the concept of him just filming his own shadow.”
He sent the finished work, which he described as part noir and part zombie film, to Herzog last month but hasn’t heard back.
Still, the experience has been profound, for the students and their instructor.
“To me, in the film industry as a whole, he’s kind of like a beacon as far as holding onto your vision at all costs. Creating powerful, powerful imagery,” Shellenberger said. “That’s what was exciting in this idea for me — to be able to pass a camera on to somebody like him that has and does create such powerful imagery.”